Just what do you get a 182-year-old for his birthday? Well, if its Jonathan the giant tortoise, thought to be the world's oldest living land animal, a bunch of bananas or a few carrots would be perfect. But not too many, overindulging on anything but grass gives him a tummy ache.
More on Yahoo: Belgian Shepherd Dog Sniffs Out South Africa's Rare Tortoise
Jonathan lives on St. Helena, a remote British-governed island in the South Atlantic where Napoleon was exiled in 1815 and died in 1821. No one knows precisely how he got there. His species, Dipsochelys hololissa, is native to the Seychelles, located in the Indian Ocean-thousands of miles away, around the horn of Africa. Driven to near-extinction in the mid-1800s, there are fewer than 15 Seychelles tortoises left, all in captivity. According to a recent profile of the Jonathan by the BBC, tortoises were once stacked on trading ships as a convenient source of food. He managed to escape becoming a sailor's dinner and ended up living on the lawn of Plantation House, the Governor's mansion along with five other tortoises, David, Speedy, Emma, Fredricka, and Myrtle. His life has spanned the reigns of eight British monarchs and he's seen 33 different Governors of the island come and go.
More on Yahoo: 'Extinct' Galapagos Tortoise Reappears
Jonathan's age was calculated from an 1882 photograph, now lost, which purportedly shows him at about 50 years old. Giant tortoises can grow up to 600 pounds and have an average life span of 100 years. In 2006, a 176-year-old Galapagos Tortoise named Harriet died at the Australia Zoo. Another photo of Jonathan, taken around 1900, pictures him standing in front of a Boer war prisoner and guard. About 5,000 POWs were held on the island.
Lumbering and blind, with his shell and beak deteriorating, Jonathan still has a mating drive, believe it or not, although he has never produced offspring. "He is virtually blind from cataracts," Joe Hollins, the veterinarian who cares for the tortoises told the BBC, "[he] has no sense of smell- but his hearing is good." Tortoise's beaks are made of keratin (the same protein as human fingernails) and because his is deteriorating, he hast trouble rooting up the vegetation that is the mainstay of his diet. But he's well taken care of by employees of the Plantation House, and is definitely a rock star on St. Helena.
Cruise ships anchor at the island, and over-eager tourists often crowd the grounds trying to gawk at him. A viewing area has been set up for large groups, and individual visitors are asked to keep a respectful distance of at least 6 feet. That sais, Jonathan, who Hollins describes as a "poser" who enjoys human attention, sometimes sticks out his neck for a nice scratch.
Like any dignitary, there is already a obituary written for Jonathan and the islanders are raising money for a life-size bronze statue to be created in his memory. "In truth he could die any day," Hollins told St. Helena Online, a local news blog, "when the day comes, it will be an international news story."
More on Shine:
Photographer Uses Technical Wizardry to Help Rescue Animals Find Homes
Delaware's Grandfather's Wise, Hilarious Obituary Goes Viral
This Bloodhound Dog is a Member of the Wyoming Legislature